SPECIAL REPORT

HOOKED

The war on addiction—and a fable about one victim’s survival

RAE CORELLI July 19 1993
SPECIAL REPORT

HOOKED

The war on addiction—and a fable about one victim’s survival

RAE CORELLI July 19 1993

HOOKED

SPECIAL REPORT

The war on addiction—and a fable about one victim’s survival

RAE CORELLI

All kinds of people on airplanes. Take off beside a stranger, land next to a friend. Three hours out, after two hours of talking about the economy, baseball and air travel, he’s on his fourth fruit juice. Something new to talk about. “Don’t drink?” Smiles, shakes his head. “Mind me asking why?” He looks away, sips his juice. And then, five miles above the ocean, he relives a very different kind of journey.

Mouth dry, metallic.

Palms sweaty and scalp too tight, like a vise. Head pounding, heart, too. Eyes slitted against the hurtful light from the window.

Wake up, check the surroundings before anyone notices. But there is no one. The sheet on the bed is wet. Smeared with cigarette ashes. And something else, crumbs, bits of what—bread? There is a washstand in the comer and jungle wallpaper, apes and trees. Bottles on the washstand, on the floor. One in the bed. Very, very carefully, swing the feet over the side and sit up. Good. No, not so good. Stomach heaves. Nothing comes up, but in the head, an explosion is imminent. One shoe beside the bed, find the other one in the bathroom, in the tub. Shirt ripped. Necktie missing. Get dressed anyway, slowly. Go downstairs, across the lobby. Clock behind the desk says 9something. Calendar says Wednesday, May 11, which it can’t be because yesterday was—the 5th? the 6th? Walk outside, squinting. Don’t recognize the street. Don’t recognize the town. What is this place?

Welcome to Addiction, last stop on the road for people running from reality with the help of booze and drugs. There are a thousand cities bigger than Addiction but it has the world’s greatest concentration of enlarged livers and broken dreams. Nobody plans to come here, they just show up out of the blue, usually not in great shape. Hand tremors, unfocused stares, blotchy skin. Lurching. Defiant people, refusing even to admit that they are here or have been for years. Most never do, because Addiction spells relief. Have a drink, snort some coke, take a pill, find a vein. Magic. The chemical reprograms the brain, and smiles supplant black misery. For a short time, there is no past or future, only the precious, mellow fantasy of here and now. But the short times get shorter and pretty soon they don’t happen any more and all that’s left is the need not to know, not to remember, not to feel. Actually, there is one other thing left. The chance to make a

choice: to quit or keep going; to die, go crazy or pack up and leave town.

Quit? Not hard to quit, done it often. For days, sometimes weeks—interminable, nervewracking weeks. But the question hangs there in the eye-watering brightness of the street outside the hotel with the foulsmelling upstairs room and all the bottles and the wet sheets. And then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, self-delusion lifts momentarily, like morning fog, and in its place, the melancholy realization that the party is over. Followed by a sense of nakedness, of being inconsolably alone. Followed by an overwhelming desire to get the hell out of town.

Depending on the route, the trip from Addiction to Recovery can take anywhere from weeks to months, even years. Short or long, it is a hazardous journey, unnerving. Boozy friends beckon invitingly. Creditors clamor at the roadside. So do employers, wives, husbands. Other people’s wives and husbands. Revenue Canada. The neighbors. Fear and guilt and remembrance lie in ambush. Picture a bottle of cold beer, slick with condensation in the hot sun. No. Picture instead the hotel room with the wet sheets and the jungle wallpaper.

Fidget on the sidewalk. Walk one way, walk back. Why does this feel like such a big deal? Quit fidgeting. Move. Up the steps into the church, down into the basement. “Hi,” says one guy. “Hi,” says another. “Coffee’s over there,” says a third. Big room, big crowd, rows of metal chairs, a lectern up front. Placards on the walls. “Easy does it.” “First things first.” Embarrassing.

A woman appears at the lectern. “Good evening,” she says. “I’d like to welcome everyone to this regular Wednesday night meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. My name’s Susie and I’m an alcoholic. If any of you are attending your first AA meeting, try to relax and listen and remember, we’re here to help you.”

Can’t relax, Susie, not yet, don’t know how. Listen? Sure, listening’s possible. But Susie? The coffee needs work.

Fasten seat belts, chair tables in the upright position.

Miles of tiny lights below.

“The coffee everget any better?”

“Hell, no. ” He laughs. “But I listened anyway. ”□